Two stellar performances that together just fit one disc, which rightly starts with the earthy rumbles of Also sprach Zarathustra, and although organ and bass drum are well-captured in the opening ‘2001’ sunrise, there is less from the double bass section (twelve players listed) than might be expected, and sometimes elsewhere, in sound that is generally warm and vivid, if a little nebulous in the loudest and most complex passages, although the dynamic range is satisfyingly wide. Edward Gardner’s conducting of Strauss’s Nietzsche-inspired symphonic poem is impressively flowing and direct while still being flexible and also alive to small details; in return the members of the National Youth Orchestra play with confidence, poise and bravura, and a lack of indulgence on Gardner’s part is refreshing to the music as a whole; he may have been a little more spacious in the Royal Albert Hall for Prom 29 (link below) the night before these Chandos sessions.
However, it’s The Planets that takes the bouquets, captured in sound, as ‘Mars’ announces immediately, which is that bit more tangible – indeed the war-mongering is hurled at the listener – Gardner not driving the music but ensuring tension-packed and increasing danger; the full force of the outsized NYO is uncompromising. Following which ‘Venus’ brings welcome serenity (lovely violin-playing from Millie Ashton, so too in the Strauss) and the heavens-scampering ‘Mercury’ is light and darting, played brilliantly with acute dynamics (antiphonal violins coming in to their own). ‘Jupiter’ is suitably ebullient, with keen anticipation of the central section (which became the hymn ‘I Vow to Thee, My Country’), here wonderfully majestic and heartfelt. ‘Saturn’ is bleak, the advance of ‘old age’ cited with implacable tread, a huge, clangourous, scythe-slashing climax built towards, and in its wake some celestial consolation is very poignant. ‘Uranus’ is superbly malicious, the organ glissando at its zenith caught perfectly; and finally the ethereal ‘Neptune’ is cool, clear and icily ominous, the wordless voices idyllically distant from the off and then beautifully faded. In short, this is a notable version of The Planets.